“I’m going to keep trying and fighting to do what I love.” – Natalie Hofer
Natalie Hofer is a rising sophomore at Agnes Irwin High School and has been swimming ever since she was 3 years old. At the age of 12, she broke the 50 M Breaststroke League record at the 2017 Individual Championship Meet with a time of 36.20 seconds (her record still stands unbroken today)! As a trailblazer on the swim team, she currently ranks 124th in the United States in her signature 200 YD Breaststroke, all while being one of the youngest members. This past March was Natalie’s 6th consecutive year of qualifying for the Middle Atlantic Junior Olympics.
With her immense passion and grit, she hopes to bring that same energy to achieving her dream of competing at the Olympics. In her free time, Natalie can be found managing the spotlight for her school’s stage crew, engaging in meaningful conversations with international peers, running a side business, and more. The Penn Innovators in Business Team asked her to share her incredible journey and the lessons she’s learned from unexpected obstacles as a young student athlete and entrepreneur.
What activities are you involved in at school?
“I am a part of the Akilah Club, and we partner with the Akilah Institute in Rwanda to help educate girls, so they can be financially stable and support their families after the recent war. I am also in CAG, which is the Center for the Advancement of Girls. We talk about women’s rights, abortion, and other topics that are prevalent in the current ecosystem.
I love working with people, so I joined PALS as well, which stands for Peer Active Listening Support. We get to work with an Elementary or Middle School girl in pairs to build friendships and confidence with one another. The dynamic is really fun and we get to know each other really well. Lastly, I am in charge of spot lighting for the stage crew! I am really excited for next year because I will have experience with the board, which we use for color effects.”
When did you realize you loved swimming?
“I learned how to swim when I was 3 years old; I didn’t know back then that I was going to be a swimmer, but I had started to enjoy it. When I was around 6 years old, I asked my mom to join the team at our local country club. Three years later, I asked to join a year-round team at the YMCA. Throughout this process, I found my thriving passion for the sport, which led me to join my current team at the aquatics club.
When I was 9 years old, I really started to pick up swimming. I was learning stroke techniques–still having fun with it but realizing I was actually succeeding. I wanted to challenge myself even more, and asked to join the high school varsity swim team, which I’ve been a part of since 7th grade until now. Through my team, I’ve been able to qualify for Easterns, which is a premier prep school swimming and diving meet in the country. The 100 YD Breaststroke is one of my favorite competitions during finals.
I actually used to do karate, specifically Tang Soo Do, which I ended up quitting when I was 12 after receiving my black belt. It was a tough decision, but my time commitments were starting to overlap and I knew I could only focus on one or the other. Ultimately, my love for swimming pushed me to pursue something that I wanted to be a part of my life in the long run.”
How has COVID-19 affected your life?
“Three months ago, our swim team at the aquatic club shut down because it was made up of mainly international students. Then, USA swimming released a statement saying that coaches weren’t allowed to give us workouts without their supervision. With no access to a pool and no guidance, I had to get creative. I started doing Chloe Ting workouts with my friend, but I knew I had to get back into the pool somehow. Luckily, my local country club opened soon after, and I’ve been swimming there for hours every day in the past few weeks.
In the meantime, I’m currently running a joint business with my friends called Masks for Good. We are in partnership with Goodwill and our mission is to donate our efforts to healthcare workers and to people who are in need of these resources. So far, we’ve made over 3000 masks and it’s been a crazy journey. I never thought running a business would be this hard, but I love the people I work with and beyond the craziness, we’re contributing to a cause that is bigger than ourselves, which is the most rewarding part of it all.”
What is the biggest challenge you have come across in your career?
“I usually don’t quit and scratch things. Rather than a big challenge, I’ve had many little obstacles I had to overcome. One time, I had a bloody nose during the first half of a meet that wouldn’t stop for 30 minutes. There were two doctors who were treating me, telling me to call it off, but as soon as the bleeding stopped, I jumped into the pool. People asked me why, and my response was: ‘why not’?
Any opportunities I get to swim–I take. I feel like I’ve always been tested with whether or not my endurance is strong enough to swim. These constant reminders and push backs are what make me stronger.”
What is the worst advice you have received?
“The worst advice is no advice at all. I remember going up to a swim coach and asking for some focus points before I went into my race. They told me to ‘just have fun with it’, which only added to my anxiety. Everyone’s different, but I personally always want to receive that boost of confidence or a tip of what I need to focus on with my technique. It helps me stay calm and focused during the race.”
Any future plans?
“My dream is to attend a college where I am able to swim, preferably on the East Coast because I want to stay close to home. I’m not exactly sure what I want to study yet, but so far I have been enjoying the science curriculum offered at school. For now, I’m going to keep trying and fighting to do what I love.”